and one boot is gone. I dare not approach the barefoot
man, as he seems to enjoy his peace. He wears a hat with
a long brim, worn from the life of someone who has worked
too hard and too long not to enjoy the sound of water in his old
age. I keep visiting the man, and every day I do, one more thing goes
missing. The second boot, the hat, the chair, the shirt, the pants,
there is just the man left. And that river. Finally, I approach the man,
before I can talk, I become enamored with the music of the current.
splosh, it conducts itself in this manner all day, through the night,
making a week,
filling the vase of a year. Before reaching forever, I sit on the bank
and let my hand drift.
Home Is a House Cat
My mother used to leave me at her friend’s house. Her friend had a son
my age. She thought we could be friends. Instead, he spent hours on the
computer, while I learned the art of entertaining myself. I was eleven
and wouldn’t get a flip phone for another two years.
For some inexplicable reason, I cannot seem to shake memories from being
a visitor in this house.
The layout made it easy to imagine the three-dimensional blueprint. The
living room had a slanted ceiling, making it appear much larger than it
was. It also had a skylight that draped the space in the luster of a
warm day. Comfortable, blonde hardwood floors, the type where if I had
enough momentum I could slide seven feet in cotton socks, were handsome.
The dining room was exclusively used for hosting guests. A small kitchen
with a peninsula meant for conversations during breakfast doubled as a
study area during exam time, perfect for pulling an all-nighter. A deck
with a small yard meant for grilling in the summertime. Six or seven
baby blue carpeted steps led up to the family’s living quarters: a
master bedroom (door always slightly ajar so that a sliver showed a
scene of a mom and dad resting, reading a book, watching baseball, or
listening to rainy day jazz), the sister’s bedroom (everything in it was
a shade of lilac), my “friend’s” bedroom (smelled like stale peanuts and
the wall by his twin bed was covered in magazine cut-outs of punk rock
bands and swimsuit models), and a small, shared bathroom. Four or five
steps led to the downstairs den, a cozy second living room where the
family gathered to watch Friday night movies. I lounged in this room. No
one bothered me, while I embraced my invisibility.
Their house cat, Rumi, also called the den home. Every Thursday, on and
off for four years, Rumi and I would share the space. I was deathly
allergic to cats. Rumi caught on and sat on one side of the brown
leather couch, while I nestled up on the other under a grey throw. We
respected each other’s space. Instead of watching TV, I watched Rumi.
His green irises were tunnels to a consciousness I could not deny.
It was snowing outside. My mother dropped me off after school. In the
northeastern town we lived in, snow didn’t stop people from running
errands. Even heavy snow. The heavier, the better. Made us realize we
were alive. Running errands in the name of survival. Anyway, she dropped
me off to the house with all the rooms. The shift in temperature, coming
in from the lung-sharp cold into a warm furnace heat is a
sharp-as-can-be memory. Everyone was in their modes of living. Mother
and father in their bedroom, the door cracked open, as always. They were
watching a laugh-track sitcom. The two kids were in their bedrooms idly
in their own orbit.
Besides a casual pleasantry, I was left to myself. I went down to the
den, expecting to see Rumi. He was absent from the couch, so I waited,
thinking maybe he was in another room. Maybe he was by the deck’s
sliding glass doors watching the snowfall or nuzzled up against one of
the legs of the marble dining table, or at his litter box in the corner
of the black and white tiled kitchen. I waited for ten minutes, then
twenty, then an hour, but Rumi never came. Something felt off. I
searched for him, ascending and descending each level of the house. I
asked each member of the family. Each didn’t hear me, as if I wasn’t
there at all. As if Rumi never existed. So I crawled in a slump back to
the den where I belonged, hid under the throw, and peered out, counting
the snowflakes fall, wading in the effortless time.
S.S. Mandani is a writer and runner. He owns and operates Saltwater Coffee in the East Village and West Village of New York. His fiction is featured or forthcoming in Shenandoah, X-R-A-Y, Storm Cellar, New World Writing, No Contact, Lost Balloon, Orca, Litro, Autofocus, and others, and was nominated in 2021 for the Best of the Net anthology. He studied fiction writing at The University of Florida and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His novel-in-progress explores Sufi mysticism and a future hundred-year climate war that unites a dysfunctional family of jinns. As a columnist, he writes about drinks and culture for “Liquid Carriage” at No Contact and radios @SuhailMandani.